Project Manager Certifications

Project Management Certifications: Functional and Specialty

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

You can earn Project Management Certifications in your functional and specialty areas, as well as the generalist certifications offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI)® and PRINCE2®. Project managers should include those options in planning their job hunting, career skills and credentials for advancement. A specialty certification in information systems  or commercial construction will put you ahead of a competing candidate who has only a generalist PMI certification.

Project Management Certifications: What Functional and Specialty Certifications are Available?

Project managers can add practical hands-on skills in planning, scheduling, estimating and risk management tailored to their specialty area such as IT, construction, healthcare, business/marketing, and consulting. These programs allow you to add those skills within the framework of your industry specialty so the learning is relevant to the kind of projects you manage. Employers value the practical, real world, hands-on knowledge these certifications provide because your capabilities deliver significant payback on their projects.

These functional and specialty Project Management Certifications also add soft skills in leadership, communications, making presentations and influencing decision-makers. These are not skills that you gain by learning definitions for a multiple-choice exam. The soft skills are best learned in environments where you actually apply the skills in live simulations with your instructor and get feedback on what you do well and what you need to do better. What is particularly effective is video feedback in a simulated meeting with a team member who is not performing well. You’re able to interact with that employee live and in real time. This is accomplished with role-playing instructors who play the role of the poor performing employee. They give you a video of your simulation and feedback on how you handled the interaction. This experiential learning with hands-on coaching is the way to gain expertise and confidence in these communication and presentation techniques.

Project Management Certifications: When Should I Gain Functional and Specialty Certifications?

Planning your career properly requires you to include:

  • Earning the multiple-choice based credentials from (PMI)® or PRINCE2® project manager certifications
  • Adding hands-on skills in scheduling, estimating, risk management, etc.
  • Improving your leadership, presentation skills and ability to influence and persuade people.

It’s helpful to divide your career into a number of stages and pursue the appropriate Project Management Certifications for each stage.

Project Management Certifications: Getting a Job in Project Management

Entering the project management profession is difficult when you have no experience. One credential that can enliven an otherwise dull resume is functional training in areas like scheduling, project management software, budgeting and status reporting. Those are time-consuming tasks for project managers. People with training in those skills, but no actual PM work experience, may be able to join a project management team. Beginner project management certifications give you both the practical skills in the above areas and a credential to add to your resume. They may open the door into project management. There are number of certifications that open the door into an assistant project manager or project coordinator position.

Project Management Certifications: Your First Project Management Job

Once you’ve opened the door into project management with a position on the project management team, your next career step is managing projects on your own. To prepare you for that and give you a credential to secure that opportunity there are number of basic Project Management Certifications in specialty areas like IT, construction, healthcare, business/marketing, and consulting. These certifications do not have the substantial experience requirements of PMI and PRINCE2 certifications. You can earn these certifications in your first year or two working in the project management profession. This first certification is a credibility builder because it is relevant to a particular specialty. If your skills and this credential lead to managing small projects, your PM career is on its way.

Project Management Certifications: Moving Up to Larger and More Complex Projects

When your successes on smaller projects create the opportunity to move up to larger more complex projects (and more compensation,) you may need to add an advanced Project Management Certification. These are particularly relevant in specialty areas like IT, construction, healthcare, business/ marketing etc. These advanced certifications give you sophisticated tools for estimating costs and duration, analyzing risks, managing stakeholders, leading large teams, and making presentations to executives with advanced tracking and status reporting.

Project Management Certifications: The Multiple-Choice Certification

The next step is probably earning a certification from the Project Management Institute (the PMP)® or PRINCE2®. They require 3 to 5 years of experience managing projects. These certifications may not add practical skills but they are certainly credibility builders within your organization and when you’re searching for a new job. At this point in your career, you have a substantial amount of experience, but to earn these certifications, you need to forget most of it. The multiple-choice exams are academic and focused on knowing the detailed steps in a formal project management process. However, the investment of time and effort in gaining these certifications is worthwhile for many people.

Project Management Certifications: Managing Multiple Projects and Portfolios

The final project management career step before you move into an executive management position is to manage multiple projects, programs and portfolios. This requires many new skills beyond those you acquired in managing large projects. You’ll need training for allocating resources across multiple projects based on priorities that you’ve helped the executives establish. The political, communication and presentation requirements for effective multi-project management are substantial. There are Project Management Certifications that give you the practical skills for transition into this highest level of project management.

Project Phases – Video

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

Projects are very often broken into phases.  Each phase is a sequence of steps that must be completed. This is not to say that there aren’t surprises and it certainly doesn’t mean there’s only one thing happening at a time. But there are identifiable project phases that are planned,  executed and tracked. Building a department store might have these phases:

  • Engineering Design
  • Permiting
  • Site preparation
  • Foundation
  • Floors 1-3
  • Floor 4-5
  • Interior finish
  • Inspections and Certificate of Occupancy
  • Tenant Occupancy

Each of those phases might be done by different people with their individual   schedules, budget and contract.  Work on some of these phases might happen at the same time.  Other phases would proceed in sequnce.

The project manager and sponsor reach agreement on how to divide a project into phases.  As an example, an information systems project might have the following phases.  They moves from design to development to. programming testing and installation.  There is usually overlap between the phases.

  • Systems Design
  • Programming
  • Testing
  • Installation

The project manager and team would estimate the hours of work, cost and duration of each phase. One size of project management does not fit all projects. As we discuss the project phases, we’ll talk about what phases you can do for two types of projects: a small project done within a department and a larger project done for a customer or client.

Real-world Project Management: Assessment and Feasibility

Project Phases – Initiation Steps: SOW and Charter

When we initiate a project, we begin the planning process. That’s where we identify what the project should produce. The project sponsor usually initiates the project with a document called a statement of work or SOW. That document gives the project manager information about what end result the sponsor wants from the project. Then the project manager will meet with the sponsor and talk about the deliverables the project has to produce.  They will also discuss what phases they will use.

The major deliverable is the project scope and that’s the business result the project sponsor wants. Even on a small project, during the initiation phase the sponsor and the project manager will identify the major deliverables that will lead them from where they are now to the major deliverable, the project scope.

Let’s start the discussion with a small project example. All the work may be done within one department where the project manager works for the department manager who is the project sponsor and the boss of all the project team members. The sponsor will create the SOW and then work with the project manager to define the major deliverables. Then they might go straight to developing the project charter which is the final step of the initiation phase. The charter lays out the scope and deliverables, the resources required and the risks that have to be managed. It also gives rough estimates of the project’s budget and duration. That might be all that’s needed to initiate a small project.

On a larger project, one done for a client for example, there may be many more steps in the initiation phase. The organization in which the project is being performed may require a feasibility study to document the likelihood of success and the costs and resources required. Before granting initial project approval, the organization may require a formal business case which documents the return on investment, the cost/benefit analysis and the payback of the proposed project. The project manager might begin the process of identifying stakeholders and their requirements during initiation. They will use that information to analyze the project’s scope as well as the high-level risks. As the scale and importance of the project increases, the initiation phase changes to an effort that may require weeks of effort by a team of people. Even on a large project the initiation phase ends with the charter, just like the small project. The charter is going to be longer and contain a lot more data but it is the document that, when approved, authorizes the sponsor and project manager to begin detailed planning of the project.

Project Phases – Planning Steps: Management Plans, Schedules, Budgets and Risks

After the charter is approved by the sponsor or by the organization, the project planning phase begins. It includes two kinds of plans. The project manager prepares project management plans. These plans tell the team and the sponsor how they will manage the project scope, schedule, cost and budgets, procurement, risk, human resources, quality, stakeholders and change control.

On small projects, some of these management plans may only state, “We are not going to track costs and budgets on this project because the costs are included in the department budget.” That is a totally adequate small project management plan for costs. The management plans specify what specific techniques we will use to manage each of the above areas, who will be accountable for the management and control process and how much resource we will use. The reason this approach is a best practice is because when we start executing the project plan, all the decisions have been made and we can focus on executing as efficiently as possible. The overall project management plan includes specific plans like the project schedule and also the project management plans for schedule which tells us how were going to manage the schedule. The project planning phase tells everyone what they are supposed to do, how they are supposed to do it and when we will begin to execute the plan.

Project Phases – Executing the Plan Steps

The executing phase of a project is where all the work gets done, all the money gets spent and all the tasks get completed to produce the deliverables. If the project manager has done his or her job correctly, it is a fairly straightforward process because people follow the plans and execute them.  The risks that the project faces have been mitigated or avoided and other problems have been corrected as they occurred.  The executing phase should be boring.

Project Phases – Monitoring, Controlling and Managing Change Request Steps

The monitoring phase of the project happens at the same time as the executing phase. Every week the project manager compares what the project team produced versus what was planned. Any differences between the plan and actual results are variances. The project manager reports the variances between plan and actual in a weekly status report to the project sponsor. In that report, the project manager details what is happening on the project and provides a sponsor with forecasts of when the project will be finished and what the actual costs will be. If things are not going according to plan, the project manager will also prepare plans to fix the problems and bring the project back into alignment with its plan. Hopefully the sponsor approves these corrective actions and the project manager implements them. The goal is to deliver what was planned; no more and no less.

Controlling the project is the second half of this phase or project step. The project manager is handling requests for changes to the promised deliverables and the project plan. The purpose of change control is not to prevent all changes. The project manager must carefully analyze every change request and its impact on the project budget, duration, risk, quality and resources. The project manager analyzes every requested change and quantifies the impact on the project budget and duration. They should make a specific recommendation for every change request and then forward it to the sponsor. The project manager wants to get the sponsor’s approval of the budget and time required to complete the project including the requested changes. When this process is not in place, the project suffers from scope creep. That’s where the deliverables expand and change over time without any adjustment in the project budget or duration. Scope creep causes significant variances to the plan because of changes to the scope and deliverables. It is a major source of project failure.

Project Phases – Closing Steps

When the last deliverable is produced and accepted by the project sponsor and stakeholders, the final step is project closeout. The project manager makes sure all the vendors are paid and all deliverables are formally accepted by the appropriate stakeholders. But the primary purpose of closeout is to make future projects more successful. As part of the closing routine, the project manager conducts a lessons learned meeting with the sponsor, stakeholders and team members. They discuss what went well and what did not as well as how problems should be handled differently next time. The project manager archives those lessons learned meeting notes so that project managers who start a similar project have the benefit of the lessons that were learned from the current project. The archive for a completed project should include the management plans that were developed for the project as well as the schedule, budget, change requests, plus the estimated and the actual costs and hours worth of work. This latter data makes the estimating of a new project much much easier. With all that work completed, the project manager is ready for a new assignment.

Project Management Career Steps

There are five distinct project management career steps.

Getting into the Profession as an untrained PM

The process starts with becoming a  project manager and getting into the profession. This can be as simple as being in the right place at the right time. What I mean is that you’re an effective contributor in your organization and someone in management may tap you to run a project. When you do well, your project management career is launched.

Getting a beginner certification and basic skills
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP

Other people carefully prepare themselves with training in the tools and techniques of project management. They use their credential to gain entry as an assistant or associate project manager. Once they have the job, good performance drives their career. They will be actively involved in planning projects, gathering requirements, developing schedules and tracking actual performance against the plan. On-the-job training can teach you a lot of that, but it’s also wise to take a course in the fundamentals of project management. You’ll learn techniques and a proven methodology that you can repeat on every project.

Steps in a Project Manager Career

Getting Certified

The next project management career step is moving up to a full-fledged project manager position. A functional or specialty certification is very valuable during your first or second year in project management. That certification gives you proven techniques for doing the things you may have been doing by guess work. These functional or specialty certifications also teach you some of the unique project management techniques required in information technology, construction, healthcare, consulting and general business projects.

project management careerIndustry Specialization

With your industry specialty certification, you are positioned for the next career step which is getting a higher-paying position to manage larger projects. After three years working in your profession, you probably have sufficient project manager hours to qualify for the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification. To earn that certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI), you need to document your project manager work experience and project management training classes and then pass a difficult 4-hour examination.

You can earn a certification in your project management specialty area: IT, construction, healthcare, business  consulting.  Then earn the PMP certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI) as you move up to senior project manger and program manger.

Program and Portfolio Management

The top run on the ladder is positions and certifications for managing multiple projects and programs which can also include managing all the projects and programs in the organization which puts you into the executive ranks with appropriate compensation.

Project Plan Is Missing

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP

The corporate executive flies you across the country to take over a project he describes to you as “troubled” during a phone call.  You arrive at the facility where the whole team is waiting for you in the boardroom.  The regional VP, a 300-pound man, gives you a bear hug and turns to the team and says, “This PM is the winner who’s going to lead us to the finish line by the end of October or die trying.”

You scan the group and see team members smirking and averting their eyes from your glance. You turn back and see the VP picking up his garment bag and briefcase saying, “Well, I’m off to tour our Southeast Asia offices. See you at Thanksgiving”

You reach for his elbow saying, “But we need to discuss the project scope and the project plan.”

The VP jerks his elbow out of your grip and bolts out the door saying, “The paperwork’s all done; look at those notebooks.”  The VP points behind you. You turn around and  see seven 4 inch thick notebooks on the table.

As you walk toward the table, a team member says, “You won’t find a project scope or a plan or a schedule in those books.  We don’t have any type of plan.”

You whirl around and race for the door.  The VP is gone and the corridor is empty with no sign of him.

A team member with a long ponytail and beard says, “Those books don’t have anything but our weekly To Do lists.  We each get a new list every Sunday night.”

You face the 19 team members in the room and say, “Without a plan, we will fail.”

The team members nod at you and each other.  Ponytail says, “Ohhh, we know that.” The team members all shake their heads in agreement.

You say, “We need to begin with the project scope.  Who started this project? Was it the VP we just saw running down the hall?

Ponytail says, “Nope. He just takes orders; he doesn’t give them. The Corporate Executives read the riot act to all the execs about our customer service. The Consumer Reports magazine kicked our butt and said we had the worst service in the industry. The guy you just met, we call him The Hippo, was the last VP standing when the music stopped. So he’s had the ‘World Class Customer Service – WCCS’ project dumped in his lap.  This year’s evaluation starts on November 1.”

You say, “So we have the project’s name. Now what do we have to do to reach the WCCS goal?”

Ponytail says,”Basically everything – systems, procedures, training, remodeling offices, hiring people, etc.   Every executive wants something they say they need for WCCS.  So The Hippo tells us, “Just add it and get it done by October 31.”

You say, “Is there any chance we’ll achieve WCCS by October 31?”

The team members all think that’s hilarious.  One yells, “October of what year?” Another shouts, “I hope my job hunting is done by then.”

The laughing abruptly stops when you say, “I’ll go see the Executive VP and get the scope defined by him.”

Ponytail says, “That’s suicide,man!  She thinks her instructions were clear but all she said was ‘WCCS  by October 31′.”

You answer, “No one gets fired for asking questions.”

“Oh yes they do. It happens here all the time,” replies a woman wearing thick glasses.

You walk out the door and look up the EVP’s office in the directory by the elevator. It is located on the top floor with a cluster of assistants’ offices. You press the elevator button and wonder if this will be your last day of employment.

The elevator doors open on an elegant oak paneled reception area that is empty except for a stylishly dressed, elderly lady at the far end of the room. She looks up at you with surprise.

You walk across the thick maroon carpet and stop in front of the lady whose name plate says, Vivianne Lane.

You introduce yourself saying,  “Hello Ms. Lane.  I’m the new project manager they flew in from the west coast for the WCCS project. I need to see the EVP so I can get started on this important project. ”

“Oh my yes,” Ms. Lane says. “It’s a very important project.”

“Then I can’t waste any time getting to work.  Is the EVP in? May I see her?”

Ms. Lane says, “It’s best not to disturb her.”

“Oh I have to, maam. Which office is hers?”

Ms. Lane raises her eyebrows and quivers with fear. She slowly raises her arm and points to the door on the right.

You walk to the door and Ms. Lane scurries for the ladies room.

You knock on the door and listen.  There’s no sound.  You grab the bronze doorknob and slowly open the door.  You hear a click followed by, “Oh damn.”

The EVP  had just missed a ten foot putt across the plush green carpet. The white ball was wide left by 5 inches. From your summers as a caddy, you know what the problem is.

You say, “Your feet were pointed to the left so the ball went that way.”

A 6 foot tall woman in her 40’s with silvery white hair is in her stocking feet; her 5″ heels are by her desk.

Looking down at her feet she says, “You’re right. Did my VPs hire a golf pro?”

“No maam, I’m the project manager for WCCS.”

Don’t call me maam. I’m not your mother or an old lady.  Call me EVeep.  I might not have that title by the end of October so I want to enjoy it for a while.”

You glance at her desk top and see a worn issue of Consumer Reports  magazine. You think for a moment and ask, “How good does the rating from Consumer Reports have to be for you to keep your EVP tile?”

“Aren’t you the quick one,” she says.  “We need to be in the top 10 this time around and in the top 3 by next year.”

You ask “Is that last year’s Consumer Reports issue with the rankings?”

She retorts, “What do you think I’d have on my desk, Seventeen magazine?”

You say, “May I borrow the copy so I can see how the ratings work? Then I’ll be back tomorrow with a high level project plan.”

“You’re going to aim the project at the performance factors Consumer Reports uses?” she asks.

“Would you rather I used Seventeen ratings?” you respond.

The EVP laughs as she hands you the magazine, “Pull this off and you’ll get the gold ring. Here’s my cell phone number. Put it on your speed dial.”

You start for the door and then turn back and say,”I am going to cut a ton of crap out of this project because I hear the VPs have added everything from their wish lists. Will you support me with them?”

She says with a smirk, “Just tell them I told you to clean out the crap and they can come see me if they don’t like it.”

You smile, open the office door and head for the elevator. You nod a thank you to Ms. Lane as you pass her desk.  You read the article on the way down.

As you walk into the boardroom, the team members all turn and look at you like you’ve been carried back by a tornado.

You smile at them and said, “We have a great project sponsor and her full support.  We now have a project scope which is: Being in the top ten of the Consumer Report rankings this next year and in the top three the year after. What we are going to do today, and into the night if necessary, is assess the five factors the magazine uses in their ranking. Then we’ll decide what deliverables we need to achieve to improve our rating. Nothing else will be in our project plan.”

Ponytail says, “The VPs will go ballistic about those cuts.”

You say “My money in on the EVP standing her ground. I think she will eat their lunch if they object.  Let’s get to work  and break down our scope into its component deliverables. We’ll start with a deliverable of ‘97% of our customers get correct information when they call Customer Service.’ Where do we stand now?”

There’s silence and then ponytail says, “We’re at 65% now.”

“How do we get to 97%?” you ask.

The woman with thick glasses speaks up, “We need more training. But we don’t have enough people to pull them off the phones to attend classes.  There’s a Human Resources hiring freeze so we can’t hire more people.  That’s also killing us on the hold time standard.  We haven’t got enough bodies in Customer Service.”

Without responding to her, you grab your cell phone, hit two speed dial keys and put it on speaker.  “Hello EVeep. The project manager here. We’re going to need more bodies in Customer Service for quality training and to reduce hold time. Can you help us get around HR’s hiring freeze?”

You all hear a dial tone and the team looks embarrassed.  Then you say, “Have faith.  How many new Phone Reps do we need?”

Ponytail says “37 new folks. We’ll have training on customer service policies for them and our current staff of 102.  We’ve already designed the course.”

You nod and your cell phone rings. You put it on speaker and listen,”This is Gladys Knight, Human Resources VP. Against my better judgement, the hiring freeze for Customer Service is lifted. What do you need from us?”

You give the team a big grin and say, “37 new reps and 5 days of training for 139 reps starting next week.  We have the course materials ready.”

“Will do,” the Human Resources VP says and hangs up.

You face the team with a big thumbs up.”Now let’s break down the other high-level deliverables for achieving our scope of: ‘A top ten Consumer Reports ranking this next year and in the top three by the following year.’ When we do that, we will have our project plan.”

Project Management Certification Options

Here the project management Certification options for beginners, experienced pros and program managers

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP

There are a wide range of project management certification options to propel your  project manager career. They can lead you to the upper levels of project, program and portfolio management.

If you have some experience and have earned your first project management certification, it’s easier to get a job in project management. Your first certification could be in a specific industry or in a functional specialty. Those project management certification programs give you basic skills for small projects. Then you can build on them by adding advanced techniques in estimating, risk management, planning with executives, tracking and status reporting. The better programs also give you training and practice in making effective presentations, leading meetings and communicating clearly with stakeholders and your team members. The Project Management Institute (PMI) offers two certifications.  The PMP  (Project Management  Professional) is for experienced PMs. Our PMP Exam Prep course prepares you to pass that exam.  The CAPM (Certified Associate in Project Management) is for people who are new to project management. offers project management certifications in the following specialties:
IT Project Management Certification In addition to basic and advanced project management tools and techniques, this program gives you the skills to use different systems development methodologies, like Agile and Waterfall, and how to elect the correct one for each project. They also teach you how to manage the users’ expectations and your team members’ performance.

Construction Project Management Certification In addition to the basic and advanced project management tools and skills, this program places special emphasis on accurate estimating, building customer/owner relationships and the intricacies of dealing with subcontractorsProject Manager Certification on your project. You learn how to manage risks and change orders which are critical elements in construction project profitability.

Healthcare Project Management Certification In addition to the basic and advanced techniques and tools, this program gives you the tools to effectively deal with the unique organizational issues in the healthcare environment. You learn how to work with both the administrative departments and the medical staff of a healthcare institution. You will be able to build effective teams across those functional lines.

Business Project Management Certification In addition to the basic and advanced project management tools, this program teaches you how to integrate people from different functional areas into a high-performing project team. You learn how to build project plans and effective teams that include the efforts of information systems, marketing, sales and operations. Each of these areas has a unique perspective on projects.

Client/Consulting Project Management Certification This certification teaches you basic and advanced project management techniques as well as how to “sell” engagements to clients, manage their expectations and finish projects on time. Delivering those results earns a profit for your firm and creates a satisfied customer. You learn how to handle change orders profitably and develop a mutually beneficial relationship clients.

These certifications are valuable credibility-builders within your organization and help you stand out from the crowd when seeking a new project manager position.

Parametric Estimating

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

Parametric estimating is one of the most accurate techniques for determining a project’s  duration and cost. Luckily, parametric estimating is fairly easy to implement. First, you define the specifications of each unit of the deliverable. Next you research published information, if available, about how many hours of work are required for each unit and the cost. For example, the units could be linear feet of wall surface to paint or customer interviews about their satisfaction with your company’s service. You can use these rates for estimating the duration and cost for the individual tasks/deliverables and the entire project.  Project Estimating Main Page

Parametric Estimating – Use Published Rates

Parametric estimating requires published rates. Let’s say you need to estimate the cost of building a high-rise office building. You might consult an estimating publication and find that the cost of building a six-story, pre-stressed concrete building with a luxurious finish for the offices, plus  many other specifications, would be $175 per square foot. You would select the appropriate rate and multiply it by the number of square feet of your building. That would give you the estimated cost.

You could also use parametric estimating if published rates were available to estimate the hours of work required to paint one of the offices. You would look up the specifications for an office with 12-foot ceilings. You might paint it with a latex paint after first putting down a primer. You would look up the rate in a published estimating book and find that each linear foot of wall in this office would require .25 hours of labor. If you had 2,000 linear feet, you would estimate the work at 500 hours (2,000 x .25 = 500). Parametric estimating is successful for often-repeated tasks, like building a six-story office building or painting office walls. Because these tasks are common and frequent, there is a lot of data available.  It is worthwhile for industry sources to compile and publish parametric estimating data.

parametric estimatingWhen compared to other estimating techniques, parametric estimates are more credible to executives than estimating techniques based on people’s judgments. Because the parametric rates come from sources published by large reputable organizations, the rates are seen as very reliable. The other half of the equation, the number of units you will produce, is also credible. You base the units on a planned count that you can compare to the actual count as you execute the project. The combination of these two features make parametric estimating seem to be rock solid.

Here’s another example. Let’s say you have 400 customer surveys to conduct and you will ask 35 yes/no questions during the interview. You find a published source that says the rate for a 30-40 yes/no question survey is 15 minutes per survey. Using this rate, you calculate the total work: 15 minutes x 400 = 600 minutes or 10 hours of work.

While parametric rates are readily available in the commercial and residential construction industries, that is not true everywhere. Parametric estimating is less successful with tasks that don’t produce tangible outputs. You can count the number of square feet in a building or the number of customer interviews you’re going to conduct. They are tangible. It’s much less accurate when you try to develop parametric rates for judgmental tasks with intangible outputs. For example, there may be rates for writing and editing pages for a financial report but these rates are much less accurate. Parametric rates are not available for projects in manufacturing, information systems, healthcare, marketing, human resource management and general operations. That’s because these projects are too varied to establish reliable rates.

Parametric Estimating – Do It Yourself

There is an option for projects where published parametric rates are not available. That option is to develop your own parametric rates. This is particularly important for tasks that are part of many of your projects. You have the database you need if your organization is doing a good job of archiving your projects’ planned and actual hours of work and costs. You can identify tasks that appear frequently in your organization’s projects.  What you are looking for are deliverables where the amount of work for each unit is relatively consistent. Writing computer code is not consistent because each line of code may require vastly different amounts of thought and creativity. But it may be possible to develop your own parametric rates for deliverables with tangible outputs. Customer service reps answering the top ten questions your customers ask has a relatively consistent amount of work per question. The unit cost of generating employee W-2 forms in your payroll system is usually consistent in terms of the sources of information each W-2 accesses. Writing a software manual where the units you count are the number of screen displays is another example.

Obviously, these homegrown parametric estimating databases are not going to cover all of the tasks in your projects. But they will cover some which saves you time and gives the estimates greater credibility. Remember that the key to developing those estimates is having historical data from completed projects. You must archive the information about how many hours of work various activities took and how many units they produced in those hours. When you use these homegrown parametric rates, you can significantly improve the accuracy and credibility of your cost and duration estimates with a relatively small time investment. What is the best technique to use

At the beginning, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing,  or construction, or healthcare, or consulting.  That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.

  1. 101 Project Management Basics
  2. 103 Advanced Project Management Tools
  3. 201 Managing Programs, Portfolios & Multiple Projects
  4. 203 Presentation and Negotiation Skills
  5. 304 Strategy & Tactics in Project management

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My First Project and The Lessons I Learned

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

I’d like to forget my first project and my blunders. Like most people I got started managing projects by having one dumped in my lap like a dead flounder. My boss said, “Pat really screwed up the supply room project! I want you to take over and fix it. Do whatever you have to and get this thing done by the end of June!” Although I made many blunders, as you’ll see below, the worst one was saying, “Okay, boss you got it!”

My First Project and Lesson #1: I Assumed the Boss Gave Me Some Authority

The boss did say “Do whatever you have to and get the project done by June 30.”  So It went to the next cubicle where Jack, a buddy of mine, worked. I knew he was on the supply room project because he’d been complaining about it for months.

I greeted him with, “Hey, Jack . The boss just dumped the supply room project in my lap. How you are doing on it?”

Jack put his hands up covering his face like a boxer doing the rope-a-dope and said, “I have nothing to do with the supply room project. I don’t know what’s going on with it but if I were you, I’d run as far from it as I could. Now please get out of my cubicle before someone sees me talking to you. Don’t forget what happened to Ralph, your predecessor on that project. He’s been demoted to the loading dock where he’s checking in shipments now.”

“You’re only kidding, right?” I asked.

Jack replied, “That project is the black plague. I’d call in sick for the next month if I were you.”

“Come on, Jack,” I chuckled nervously. “The two of us can straighten out that mess. Then we’ll be real heroes.”

Jack looked at me like I was insane and scurried out of his cubicle like a rodent.

Stunned, I left Jack’s cubicle and noticed I was already a marked man. Everyone in the department was looking at me, then turning away and whispering to their neighbors in frightened tones.  My first project wasn’t winning me any allies.

I was wrong to assume I had any authority. How was I supposed to get things done? Who was I supposed to assign work to? I decided to go to the boss’s office and find out who was on my project team and how I was to get them to do some of the work. At the moment, no one would speak to me.

I entered the boss’s office and he waved me in and pointed to a chair while finishing his phone conversation. When he hung up, I said “I’m a little unclear about the supply room project you assigned me. Who is working on it? Who is on my project team and what are we supposed to do?

The boss leaned back in his chair and said, “You’re supposed to clean up the supply room by June 30. What’s so hard about that?”  “Take anybody you want for the project team. Tell them I said you’re the boss of the supply room project and can pick your team. If they don’t like it, send them to see me!”

I gave the boss the thumbs-up signal and left his office. I saw Gloria, a colleague I had coffee with three times a week. Walking into her cubicle I said, “I’m managing this supply room project…”

Gloria interrupted, “You poor sap, and you have a wife and kids. There’s no way I’m getting on that Titanic of a project. I’ve got six weeks of work to do in the next month. If the boss wants to give all of it to somebody else, I’d be happy to join you. What is the point of that project anyway?”

I answered, “It’s real simple – we’re to clean up the supply room.”

“Really? Do you know how this project got started?” Gloria asked.

“No idea.”

The boss got blasted at the last executives’ retreat about the supply room always running out of stuff and wasting people’s time. It’s also wasting too much money by ordering the wrong stuff. His butt is on the line. So don’t think for a minute that you can go in there with your little whisk broom and clean up the supply room. You’ve got to put an inventory and ordering system in place and find out what office supplies people need to have in there. You’re never going to satisfy everybody. You’ll be down there with Ralph on the loading dock checking in shipments. The only difference will be everybody will hate you, where everyone thinks Ralph is just a loser.”

I went back to my cubicle realizing that I’d made another blunder.

My First Project and Lesson #2: I Didn’t Know the Project’s Goal

What a dope I had been to walk out of the boss’s office after he told me to clean up the supply room by June 30. I didn’t ask a single question about  what he meant by that but I had agreed to do it.

My thoughts were interrupted by an angry middle-aged man in a beautifully cut pinstripe suit barging into my cubicle. I vaguely recognized him from the last company meeting. He had been sitting up front on the dais. I smiled pleasantly and asked, “How may I help you?”

“First of all,” he said, “wipe that silly grin off your face. This is a damn disaster. I have got 50 people on the 12th floor out of work because the supply room can give them the PCs, computer cables, printers and software they need. Those people are the cutting edge of my marketing department’s big product launch for this year and you are killing us.”

I had trouble swallowing and then said, “Sir, I was assigned as project manager of the supply room project 30 minutes ago. I am not the manager of the supply room.”

The executive slouched down into my office chair and put his face in his hands. He said, “We are both screwed. The supply room supervisor and his whole staff quit this morning. I may been a little harsh with them. ”

I knew I’d regret saying anything but the words just came out of my mouth, “Sir, I prefer to get fired for doing something rather than just sitting here.  So let’s fix the problem. First, who in your marketing division can I talk to about what equipment they need? Second, I will order that stuff and have it delivered today, even though we’ll have to pay more for that kind of service. Will you authorize the expense? Third, can you light a fire under Human Resources to hire replacements for the supply room manager and staff?”

The executive thought for just a nano-second and said, “Yes. Linda Wellington on the 11th floor can tell you what equipment they need. On the supply room manager position, I’ve got a really sharp assistant who deserves an opportunity. Let’s let her be the manager.”

I nodded and he said, “Why are you still sitting here?

The saga of my first project will continue with more blunders and catastrophes.

I wish I had gotten some help from experienced project managers, like the woman in the following video. She was wise enough to ask for help as she started her first project.


You can learn the right way to begin a project in our project management basics courses. You’ll work individually with your instructor at your schedule and pace. Take a look at the course in your specialty.

At the beginning, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing,  or construction, or healthcare, or consulting.  That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.

  1. 101 Project Management Basics
  2. 103 Advanced Project Management Tools
  3. 201 Managing Programs, Portfolios & Multiple Projects
  4. 203 Presentation and Negotiation Skills
  5. 304 Strategy & Tactics in Project management

Work Breakdown Structure WBS – Video

Work Breakdown Structure WBS: Deliverables or a “To Do” List?

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

The work breakdown structure (WBS) provides the foundation on which a project manager works. The project manager uses the Work Breakdown Structure to control the project and the work of the team. The WBS also provides the checkpoints against which the project manager, the sponsor and the organization measure progress.

In the project management world, there are two ways to build the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). The first way is to develop the WBS as if it were a “To Do” list. Just like the kind of list you’d make up before going to the grocery store or running errands. Now, there is nothing wrong with “To Do” lists. I make them up for myself all the time. The problem with “To Do” lists comes when you give one to somebody else.

How To Build a WBS in MS Project Software

Here’s an example. My “To Do” list for the workday includes an entry like “Fix XYZ’s program schedule.” That’s a fine reminder for me because I’ve been thinking about what client XYZ wants to do. That includes the politics of changing the program scope and the executives who have different opinions about that scope. But if I were to give that as an assignment to another one of our consultants, they would have absolutely no idea what it meant. They might have to spend days acquainting themselves with that client company and the new strategic program they are starting. That “To Do” would be a terrible assignment to give someone. I’m not creating a performance expectation. I’m not telling them what a good job is or how I will evaluate their work. Clearly, project managers ought to limit their use of “To Do” lists to personal reminders. For something like a project, which may affect your professional career and the success of your organization, you need a better tool. What Is WBS?

Work Breakdown Structure WBS: Criteria

A professionally done Work Breakdown Structure WBS has to meet two criteria to be included in our work breakdown structure.

  • It has to tell the person doing the work what a good job is before they start, creating a clear performance expectation.
  • It has to be unambiguously measurable. You don’t want to require a meeting to decide whether the task is done. You and the executives need hard-edged measures of project progress that are not open to interpretation or word games.

Those two criteria sound simple but it is not easy to produce them. In fact, it’s one of the most difficult parts of the art of project management. You need to decide exactly what you want as the assignment’s end result and then convert that end result into a metric.

Work Breakdown Structure WBS: Example

Now let’s see how I would take that “Fix the XYZ program schedule” assignment and make it work. First, I would go through the process of identifying what I want our consultant to give me when he or she completed this assignment. wbsGoing back over my conversations with the client, I could identify a number of characteristics that they want to see in the schedule. They want the project to be finished in less than 250 days. They want to avoid using outside contractors. And they want to spend less than $325,000 on the project.

So I could use those metrics to tell our consultant exactly what I want. I would tell them I want a schedule that completes the program in 250 days or less, doesn’t use outside contractors and has a budget of less than $325,000. Those are the success criteria for the assignment and that’s the deliverable I would define for the team member. A really awful assignment would have been to tell the team member I want the schedule revised to be shorter, cheaper and not use any outside consultants. If I do that, what are my odds of getting what I want? They are very poor because the consultant has to guess what I mean by faster, cheaper and no outside consultants.

Now I don’t know whether this deliverable is actually achievable. I need to sit down with the staff member to whom I am giving the assignment and look at the current schedule. I need to give that staff member a chance to think about whether the result is achievable. Then they need to think about how long it will take them to achieve the result. We would discuss the approach and the budget for doing the work. Then I’d have a good entry for my work breakdown structure. Create WBS With Team Members

Work Breakdown Structure WBS: Too Much Work?

You may be saying to yourself, “It is going to take me a lot of time to decide exactly what I want and how I’m going to measure it for every task in the work breakdown structure.” And you are right. It does take more time than a “To Do” list. However, remember how important the work breakdown structure is to your project success. It is the centerpiece of every project. You use the tasks in the WBS as the foundation for estimating work, costs and duration. The WBS gives team members clear project assignments, allows everyone to track progress on their tasks and it allows you to identify problems. As the project team executes the plan, you compare their actual results to the estimates for each WBS task. That lets you quickly identify variances and design corrective action.

Unfortunately, too many project managers don’t recognize the importance of the WBS. They think they can just make a list of all the tasks in the project and then start work. That approach yields projects that take longer than they should. These project are late because the PM did not identify all deliverables during the initial planning. To develop a strong WBS, you begin planning by defining the scope and the major deliverables. Then you break them down into tasks that are team member assignments to create your WBS.  Work Breakdown Structure Size

Work Breakdown Structure WBS: How Big?

Project managers often ask, “How many tasks should this project have?” or, “How much detail should I have in the WBS?” The mistake PMs often make is to list hundreds of tasks. work breakdownThey start by listing the first thing they can think of to do and stop when they can’t think of anything more. They may list tasks that will take as little as an hour to complete. The driving force behind this minutia is the fear of forgetting something. How Many Tasks in a WBS?

It’s easy for a PM to think that a project’s WBS should detail everything; everyone should do on the project. PMs mistakenly think that will protect them from people forgetting or skipping an item because they are lazy, stupid or sloppy. The PM may also think it frees them from relying on the thinking or creativity of the team members. The team members can just put their heads down and follow the “To Do” list. The PM mistakenly thinks they have thought of everything for them.

Work Breakdown Structure WBS: “To Do” List

This “To Do” list approach may work for projects with one or two people but it falls apart when the project gets any bigger. The flaws come from a misunderstanding of:

  • How to exercise tight control on a project
  • How to spot and solve problems early
  • The pros and cons of micro-management.

Work Breakdown Structure WBS: What is Tight Control?

Is tight control having no problems? Hardly. That happens only in project fantasyland. Tight control requires that:

  • You can identify problems early and fix them quickly and inexpensively
  • Every project team member knows what he or she is accountable for delivering.

Acceptance criteria tell team members what they are accountable for delivering. This is quite different from what they have to do. As an example, a “To Do” list might tell a team member to “clean up the file room.” That task is open to many different interpretations. It doesn’t define your performance expectation for the team member. It’s a very ineffective checkpoint against which to measure their progress.

The deliverable of “98% of the files are on the shelves in alphabetical order” creates a crystal clear expectation for the team member. It also provides the acceptance criteria and an objectively measurable checkpoint for progress. When you assign that deliverable, you have better control because the team member knows what is “good enough” and doesn’t have to guess. Then you combine deliverable-based WBS with work estimates to create a superior tool for control and tracking. When you can’t exercise tight control, you must check everyone’s work frequently and make all the decisions. That’s micromanagement.

Work Breakdown Structure WBS: Micromanagement Pros & Cons

Micromanagement is right for brand new employees who need to learn their jobs. It’s also necessary for known slackers or nincompoops on the team. However, few project teams are composed entirely of people who need all the decisions made for them. Micromanagement discourages problem solving or ownership of results. It makes team members dependent on you when you don’t allow them independent decision-making. Worst of all, it creates team members who have no accountability for their results. All they have to do is follow the “To Do” list of activities.  Problems Created by Micromanagement

Most of your project team members won’t thrive under micromanagement. Micromanagement stifles people who want independence and are willing to be accountable for their work. They are the best performers and you need to encourage their best work.

Micromanagement doesn’t work on projects that need complex judgments and creative thinking. On these projects, much of the work is cerebral. comm30So it’s impossible for you to specify everything they must do. More importantly, it’s stupid to try. Let’s say you have an experienced engineer performing a task like “design the payment input screen (GUI) for the billing system.” That relatively small task will require:

  • Meeting with users to gather information about requirements
  • Listing all the required information for the GUI
  • Thinking about how to arrange the data elements on the screen for data entry efficiency
  • Writing a layout document for the screen
  • Meeting with users to get approval of the rough design.

You could list all those activities and more in the WBS. But what if the engineer comes up with a great idea? Do you want the engineer to ignore it and follow the WBS ‘To Do” list? Of course not. You want the engineer to figure out the best way to do the design. So instead of the activities in the ‘To Do” list, you might assign deliverables like:

  • User management signs off on the GUI design and acceptance criteria
  • User management signs off that the GUI meets the acceptance criteria.

You let the engineer estimate how long those two deliverables will take. You’ll get a status report each week so you know how their work is progressing. Best of all, you designed an assignment that motivates the engineer to do his best work. Clear Performance Expectations

Work Breakdown Structure WBS: Maintaining the “To Do” List

Remember how small the second WBS was for the engineer compared with the “To Do” list? That is typical. The “To Do” list approach yields large and detailed work breakdown structures that require lots of maintenance. Every time one of the micro-tasks changes you need to update the WBS. That can require entering dozens of changes each week. If each team member is reporting on 5 – 15 tasks per week, you’ll have a lot of data entry (even if you have clerical support to input all the status data).

The inevitable result is that tracking falls behind and so does updating the schedule. There are simply not enough hours to complete these maintenance tasks. Within a few weeks, you’ll stop updating the schedule because it takes too much time. This may sound like a stupid and improbable reaction but we see it frequently, even on large and important projects. The justification for stopping is, “No one is looking at all that detail anyway, so why should I spend the time to update it?”

Work Breakdown Structure WBS: Deliverables-based WBS

Professionals who manage projects for a living and use the best practices in project management agree the WBS should be composed of deliverables (end results), not “To Do’s.” Assigning accountability for deliverables to team members yields a smaller WBS, easier reporting of progress (actuals) and less work to keep the schedule current. You also get team members’ ownership of the results when they are accountable for producing deliverables. Pre-launch Review of a WBS

Work Breakdown Structure WBS: Summary

Your work breakdown structure -WBS is your design for making assignments, holding people accountable and monitoring process. When you do it properly, your schedule will be easy to keep current and your team members will be responsible for their deliverables.

You can learn to create a WBS the right way as part of our basic and advanced project management courses. You’ll learn how to break down the scope into deliverables for which you will hold people accountable.

At the beginning of your 4pm course, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing,  or construction, or healthcare, or consulting.  That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.

  1. 101 Project Management Basics
  2. 103 Advanced Project Management Tools
  3. 201 Managing Programs, Portfolios & Multiple Projects
  4. 203 Presentation and Negotiation Skills
  5. 304 Strategy & Tactics in Project management

[ctct form=”28721″]

Project Plan Blunder Too Much Detail

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

By far the most frequent Project Plan Blunder is Too Much Detail. Why does this happen?  Don’t the executives and stakeholders understand that the Project Plan is a strategic level plan? They should focus on the project goals, not on the details. They may understand that, but getting into the details is too powerful for many people to avoid.  Main Project Planning Page

There are other reasons why stakeholders dive into the details when planning a project. Some decision-makers are uncomfortable committing to exactly what they want the project to produce. It’s easier and safer to talk about the details of the wood paneling in the conference rooms or the data fields in a new accounts payable system.  If they specify precisely what they want the project to deliver, aligned with the strategic goals of the organization, they’re committed to that result. And those commitments are hard to back out of.

Project Plan Blunder – Too Much Detail by the Sponsor

The project manager has to prevent the sponsor from committing this Project Plan Blunder by falling into the details. That’s a difficult challenge because the sponsor usually outranks the project manager by multiple levels of rank and authority. Most of the stakeholders do as well. So the best way for the project manager to gain control is to work with the statement of work (SOW) that the sponsor generated.  That document defines the project scope and deliverables as well as the acceptance criteria the sponsor will use to measure the project’s success. It defines the project at a very high level. It encourages project planning that starts from the top-level and moves down through the supporting deliverables. We call this process top-down planning.

Project Plan Blunder – Too Much Detail: the Project Manager Role

The project manager needs to control the planning process. It must start with everyone understanding the scope of the project. The scope is the largest deliverable in the project plan.  Then the project manager must lead the group through breaking down the scope into the major deliverables that support it. They are the achievements that are necessary to get from where the organization/department/system etc. is now to where it must be to deliver what the sponsor wants.

When explaining how planning with high-level deliverables works, I like to use an analogy of crossing a river by jumping from rock to rock. The deliverable that the sponsor wants (the scope) is reaching the river’s far shore. The project manager starts from this end result and works backwards. He/she asks the planning group, “What is the last rock we must stand on before we can jump to the far shore?” “That is the last major deliverable we need to produce in the project.”

Then the project manager backs up and says, “What is the rock we must stand on before we can jump to the last one?” “What rock must we reach before the last one?” The process goes on, moving backwards and identifying each “rock” (high-level deliverable) that must be reached until they are at the starting point. That starting point is where they are now in the project. And each rock is a step  toward the goal.

This is how the project manager keeps the planning group’s thinking at a high level. Focusing on the major rocks (deliverables), prevents them from sinking into the river (details). Those details are more comfortable for many people to talk about. They also let the sponsor avoid defining what the project must deliver and committing to it.

Watch a video of this typical project planning blunder of too much detail.

Project Planning Blunders: Too Much Detail

To learn more about how to plan projects the right way, consider our online project management courses. You work privately with an expert project manager who is your coach and instructor. You may begin when you wish and work on the course at your pace and as your schedule allows. You and your instructor have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish. Take a look at the courses in your specialty.

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Improve Team Performance – Video

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP

The need to Improve Team Performance is always a challenge for project managers. This  often includes dealing with an individual team member’s poor performance. Sometimes bringing about performance improvement is straightforward. First, the project manager identifies the behavior that is causing the performance problem. Next, the project manager communicates what he/she thinks is causing the problem. Then they suggest a solution. Finally, the employee changes their behavior and the project manager monitors the change. Oh, if only it was always that easy!

In this video, watch how a project manager deals with a team member whose behavior is causing a problem for the project.

Improve Team Performance: Video Synopsis

We see a project manager trying to cope with a very talented but difficult team member. First, the project manager does a correct assessment of the team member’s performance. Then she evaluates alternative ways of changing the team member’s behavior. She comes up with a clever solution that will let the project go ahead.

Here is the problem. The team member was redefining his project task based on his political preferences. He was not concerned about the project’s requirements and he disagreed with the project’s goal. He was giving speeches to company employees which actually undermined the project.

Here is the approach and solution. First, the project manager correctly assessed the team member’s performance. Then she evaluated alternative ways of changing his behavior. The project manager could not terminate the team member because the grounds for termination were not clear enough. The team member was popular with employees throughout the organization, so the project manager didn’t want to make a martyr of him. She had to change his behavior and get him to properly complete his task on the project. She faced a difficult challenge. She had to address the team member’s insubordination and come up with a good solution that would let the project move forward

The project manager cleverly redirected the team member’s efforts and got him to support the overall project goals. She made an insightful assessment of his personality type and traits. Then she focused on the correct way to communicate with him. Her communication technique let her persuade him to honor his original project commitment. The approach wasn’t an instant success and the two of them went back and forth in the discussion.  In the end, however, she succeeded by giving him different assignments and the project was successfully completed.